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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Anthony Brown auth-> Charlie Richmond
[S McManus 79]
32 of 032 Andrew Driver 23 L SPL A

Hearts' Karipidis factor proves Laszlo's worth

CSABA LASZLO has become accustomed throughout his prospering career to people questioning his wisdom.
The Hearts manager has made a living out of spotting things on a football field that others would never think could bear fruit. The problem Laszlo then encounters is overcoming those who are opposed to his views.

"Do you know how many times in Hun gary and Uganda they told me I was crazy?" the 44-year-old said at the tail end of last week. "They don't understand."

Thankfully for Hearts, this intelligent man also has a backbone and won't allow his plans to be compromised by public opinion. As a result, the men from the Capital are now sailing in the direction of Europe with the aid of one of the most accomplished anchormen in Scotland.

Laszlo's decision to convert Christos Karipidis from defender to holding midfielder has been something of a masterstroke and perhaps best epitomises the Hungarian's remarkable six-month reign at Tynecastle so far.

Upon arriving in Edinburgh in June, Laszlo's task was to pick a beleaguered group of players off their knees after a confidence-sapping season without genuine leadership had seen them plummet to eighth in the table.

With little room to manoeuvre in the transfer market in terms of bringing new faces in, Laszlo had to make the best of the tools available to him if he were to have any chance of effecting a revival. To most onlookers, it looked like mission impossible.

Shorn of strikers due to injury, poor form and general lack of quality, Laszlo took little time to decipher that there would be no point in attempting to play two attackers when he could barely muster one of the standard required for a club of Hearts' standing.

The obvious formation, therefore, would be 4-5-1 (4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 depending on how it is interpreted). Either way, a system sure to raise the hackles of a Hearts support who hadn't enjoyed the previous season with just one man in attack. Cutting his cloth to suit, Laszlo would now have to come up with a midfield five.

Ruben Palazuelos, Eggert Jonsson and Michael Stewart appeared the three obvious contenders for the central positions. But Laszlo wanted a player with more stature, steel, aerial ability and culture to sit in front of his defence. Where would he find one of those? In his defence, of course.

Laszlo quickly identified Karipidis, a player who had hitherto done a decent job but never excelled in Hearts' back line, as the ideal option for a position made fashionable by the illustrious likes of Jon Obi-Mikel, Marcos Senna and Javier Mascherano.

Upon realising that the Greek would occupy his new berth in the season opener at home to Motherwell, Hearts fans winced collectively as they recalled the disastrous days of playing centre-backs such as Ibrahim Tall, Marius Zaliukas and even Karipidis himself in this role previously, while the much-revered Julien Brellier kicked his heels in Siberia. An unexpectedly bright start to the campaign still wasn't enough for some fans. They wanted 4-4-2 restored and didn't want a defender in midfield despite the fact he was generally thriving in his new role. His presence was vital to Hearts grinding out early-season victories while not at their best. A sticky spell then ensued when defeats to Kilmarnock, Falkirk and Dundee United saw the heat turned up on Laszlo.

His tactics were slammed and calls intensified for Karipidis to be restored to defence, despite the fact that Hearts' main downfall around that time was the fact Laszlo was forced to rely on relatively unproven players such as Audrius Ksanavicius and Jamie Mole to spearhead the attack as a host of key men were hit by injury.

The manager stuck to his guns and was rewarded with a scintillating display from his team in the 1-1 draw with Hibs at Easter Road in October. Karipidis was one of the standouts as Hearts swarmed all over their city rivals, and Laszlo waxed lyrical.

"Karipidis, at the moment, is the discovery of the year in the number six position," he proclaimed afterwards. Some observers felt Laszlo was stretching a point, but others took a glance around the SPL and realised that the Greek is actually up there with the best of the defensive midfielders this country has to offer. His dominant performances against Rangers and Celtic in recent weeks have merely underlined the fact that Laszlo has been right all along.

The six-game unbeaten run Hearts are currently on has silenced the doubters, and while the return to fitness of Robbie Neilson, Christian Nade and Bruno Aguiar has played a major part in Hearts surging up to joint third in the table, it is hard to escape the notion that the Edinburgh side would be a notably less resolute unit without Karipidis at the core. In fact it seems reasonable to assume that Karipidis would privately be considered one of the first names on Laszlo's teamsheet.

Neilson admits the presence of the 25-year-old former PAOK Salonika player provides reassurance to both defenders and attackers in what, despite not always being overly pretty, is becoming a ruthlessly efficient maroon juggernaut. "Christos is massively important to making the formation work," said the right-back. "He sits in front of the back four which helps make us more solid. When we defend, we defend in numbers, but when we attack, our midfielders have license to roam because they know they have Christos protecting the defence.

"It's testament to the manager that we've been able to do so well with pretty much the same group of players as last season. The manager's been working on a system that he thinks suits and it's paying off now. It's taken a while for the boys to get used to the system, but now everyone knows exactly what they're supposed to be doing and we're reaping the benefits."

It seems fair to say that, with the likes of Aguiar, Larry Kingston, Christophe Berra and Andrew Driver hogging the lion's share of the headlines at present, Karipidis will have to settle for being something of an unsung hero in the eyes of the Hearts fans.

One man who knows all about that is Neil MacFarlane, the reliable midfielder who used to perform a similar role for Hearts when he carried out the donkey work for Paul Hartley under Craig Levein. From what he's seen, he believes Laszlo has made an inspired decision in moving Karipidis into midfield.

"Everywhere in Europe teams need a sitting midfielder who can break up attacks and give the ball to the more creative players and that's what Karipidis does for the likes of Larry Kingston and Bruno Aguiar," said MacFarlane. "I've been very impressed with him whenever I've seen him."

Despite Laszlo's eccentric tendencies, his many words usually combine in some way to make perfect sense. He said recently: "The development of the players is most important and you can make your players very interesting." On reflection, that quote could easily have been coined for the astounding job he has done in transforming Karipidis into a lynchpin of his buoyant team.

Taken from the Scotsman

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